CEDAR FALLS — One guy has a ton of experience. The other three candidates do not.
As the Northern Iowa football team moves through spring practice a keen eye has been placed on the tight end position.
The Panthers return all-Missouri Valley Football Conference pick Briley Moore, but leading into UNI’s 15 spring practices head coach Mark Farley said graduated senior Elias Nissen will be missed.
“Elias will be very tough to replace,” Farley said. “Elias might be the toughest guy on offense to replace. If you really watch him on film, the first guy I tell the pros about is Elias Nissen.
“That guy when you watch him on film is a player. He got his catches, but was probably the best blocker on offense and as good as any tight end who has ever went through here.”
Moore is as good as there is in the MVFC and is a good starting point.
The 6-foot-3, 243-pound Blue Springs, Mo. product not only led UNI in catches last year with 39 for 536 yards and four scores, but his 77 catches over the past two seasons are the most by a Panther tight end in more than a decade.
But Moore needs one or two good back-ups.
“We have one guy with a lot of experience in Briley Moore, and you can tell he is very confident in what he is doing and understands how to play the game,” offensive coordinator Ryan Mahaffey said. “Then we have three or four young guys who are either freshman or going into their first year where we are expecting them to be significant contributors to our program.
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Iowa transfer Tristan Bohr played in 12 games last season backing up Nissen and Moore, and made one catch for 18 yards. After Bohr are red-shirt freshman Jayden Scott and Alex Allen.
UNI also signed Center Point-Urbana prep Maverick Gatrost who is 6-5, 235, and caught 29 passes for 416 yards his senior season.
“Replacing that guy (Nissen) is devoting yourself every single day to the fundamentals,” Mahaffey said. “Elias came in as a guy who was not a finished product. But he serves as a great example to some of our younger players on what they can become if they devote themselves to the process.”
Scott is 6-foot-5 and 230, and hails from Omaha Creighton where he had six touchdown catches as a senior. Allen, the son of former UNI head coach Terry Allen, is 6-6 and 220.
Allen has been limited after suffering a groin injury early in the spring, but Mahaffey says they hope to have him back on the field before the end of the spring.
“The biggest challenge I see for those guys is run blocking,” Mahaffey said. “We want to be able to set the edge to the offense. They are slowly but surely becoming more efficient in that aspect of the game.”
Moore said he likes what he’s seen out of the tight end group.
“We got to clean up the little things as a tight end group,” Moore said. “That is just what we were talking about. The little things, like the first step and getting off the ball. That is all where it starts with as an offense. Striving, putting the little things as an emphasis and working as a team and we have a lot of guys doing that.”